Gary Moore: the songs, the solos, the style

By Tom MacIntosh

Gary Moore (4 April 1952 - 6 February 2011), the Irish rocker/bluesman had a career that spanned over 4 decades, playing with such heavies as Thin Lizzy, Skid Row, and Colosseum II, and collaborating with greats such as B.B. King, Albert King, John Mayall, Jack Bruce, Albert Collins, George Harrison and Greg Lake, to name but a few. Ironically he was loved and admired by his peers, yet publicly underrated, which might explain how his range of interests including, rock, blues, heavy metal, jazz/fusion was able to flourish under the radar. Here we want to explore some of his best work: the songs, the solos, and the style.

Let’s begin with his first solo effort in 1973, an album called Grinding Stone, which didn’t start fires, but at 21 years of age, the lad raised eyebrows, and many thought he held the promise of what they called the vaunted ‘guitar hero. Check out his beefy approach, both playing and singing, on Boogie My Way Back Home, a soulful blues lament turned wild, that slide guitar cries at first then picks up the pace and settles into the classic that is. After that commercial yawn, he joined up with Thin Lizzy for a stint producing gems like their famous ballad Still In Love With You, where he teams up with frontman Phil Lynott on vocals and rips out a signature solo on his travelling friend the Gibson Les Paul, a 1959 LP Standard framed for its out-of-phase sound that became his fingerprint. Then in 1977 Lynott asked him to ‘deputisefor the ailing Brian Robertson on tour and they went on to cut Black Rose, a favourite among Lizzy faithful. The harmonised twin-guitar work here between Moore and Lizzy mainstay Scott Gorham is tasty even to the point where his Irish roots, and fellow-Irishman Lynott’s roots, shine through on the ‘O Danny Boy’ tilt in one of the solos.

However, his peripatetic ways led him to stranger territory; enter Colosseum II, a shot at jazz/fusion that would impress even the mighty John McLaughlin, on a song from their album Electric Savage (‘77), called Desperado. Well, this is a full run at improvised staccato and olympic showmanship, which plays right into the man’s versatility and abundant talent.

After venturing into various genres like hard rock, metal, jazz/fusion and blues, he put out Still Got the Blues in ‘91, and paid tribute to one of his idols Albert King with Oh Pretty Woman, featuring a searing set of duel solos between the two, and Moore’s vocals put the cherry on top. A gorgeous blues classic played by two of the best.

How many ways can you strangle a guitar into art?’ was ever at the forefront in Moore’s quest to utterly dominate the instrument. Check out this release in 1987 of Wild Frontier, the title cut is a nod to his homeland Ireland, with some dive-bombing solos typical of 80s rock/pop.

Another one of his heros was Peter Green, founder of Fleetwood Mac, and in 1995 released Blues for Greeny, a tribute album playing his favourite numbers, which includes the yearning Need Your Love So Bad, where Moore makes use of the 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar given to him by Green himself years before. What seems to be the man’s most popular song ever is Parisienne Walkways, a sweet ballad off his 2nd solo album Back on the Streets (‘77). His emotional delicacy on this piece is worth raising a cup to a masterful player, soulful singer and one hell-of-a performance!

Gary Moore was renowned for his emotionally charged playing, despite his articulate expressiveness, and masterful skill, he stood apart from the rest in his phrasing and control on solos. Check out his solo on Empty Rooms, live in Stockholm 1987, a masterpiece of discipline and definition, considered to be one of his best.

There are several reasons to look into Moore’s career, not just due to his early demise, but because of the sheer admiration he had among his ‘kind’, among fans, and the volume of work he produced. Many have admitted they were greatly influenced by his daring, aggressive style, people like Joe Bonamassa, Martin Barre, Slash, Randy Rhoads, and John Sykes, which is just a smattering really. We hope this article has served to peak your interest in exploring his work, or a maddening proposition, depending if you’re new to his field of work, or a long-time fanatic.